Barely surviving to thriving - a remarkable 27-year journey with HIV


OTTAWA, Nov. 26, 2012 /CNW/ - Tiko Kerr doesn't look sick. He's a healthy and active man who rows four times a week. He defies anyone's image of a man who has lived with HIV for almost 30 years.

Tiko was diagnosed with HIV in 1985 while living in Australia; he took it as a death sentence. If the virus didn't kill him, the medication available at that time might. Little was known about HIV when Tiko was diagnosed, medications where only just being researched and the stigma and fear associated with HIV/AIDS where overwhelming.

"In those days there were not a lot of medication options, people were dying," said Tiko.

Returning to Canada and settling in Vancouver to focus on his artwork, Tiko struggled to keep his disease in check. Over the next 20 years he would take every new medicine developed. As the virus gained strength, Tiko became resistant to one medication after another, barely keeping Tiko alive.

"By 2005 I was taking every drug available," said Tiko. "I was in an advanced stage and I soon became completely drug resistant."

Tiko learned of a new treatment option but the medicine wasn't yet available in Canada. Tiko, his doctor and a group of individuals with HIV banded together and became advocates to gain access to the new treatment. But time was off the essence. Tiko's viral load, a measurement of the amount of virus in the body, was 700 thousand. Others were dying with a viral load of 500 thousand.

"I didn't have much time," said Tiko. "One man in our group had passed away and I knew I was dying.  I needed to take more action."

Tiko gathered significant public support and finally, in 2006, was granted access through a small clinical trial to the latest treatment. The changes were immediate and they were staggering. Within 5 days of treatment, Tiko's viral load was reduced by 90%. Within a month, the HIV virus was no longer detectable in his body.

"I became totally invigorated and I was no longer depressed," said Tiko. "I'm healthier now than I've ever been. Most people my age are slowing down and I'm just getting started."

With a new lease on life, Tiko's focus on his visual artistry is unrelenting and his ideas are endless. He still has to take medication every day and there are psychological effects of the disease to deal with but the opportunity this new therapy has given is unmistakable.

"I went from taking 80-90 pills a day to 10 in the morning and 10 at night and that's ok. I've never been healthier or stronger."

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Video with caption: "Tiko Kerr is a visual artist from Vancouver. He has lived with HIV for almost 30 years.". Video available at:

Image with caption: "Tiko Kerr was diagnosed with HIV is 1984. After 25 years of various medications to combat his illness - he was declared drug resistant - it was a death sentence. He worked tirelessly with his physician for access to a new innovative medicine. (CNW Group/CANADA'S RESEARCH-BASED PHARMACEUTICAL COMPANIES (RX&D))". Image available at:

Image with caption: "In 2006, after a long struggle with HIV, Tiko finally started on a clinical trial for a new medicine. The clinical trial worked, and almost immediately his symptoms dissipated. After three months the HIV virus could no longer be detected in his system. Tiko now lives an active healthy life, and continues his work as a visual artist in Vancouver. (CNW Group/CANADA'S RESEARCH-BASED PHARMACEUTICAL COMPANIES (RX&D))". Image available at:

Audio with caption: "Tiko talks about his initial struggle with HIV, the different medications and treatments that he underwent, and his eventual diagnosis of becoming drug resistant - a diagnosis which at the time was considered a death sentence.". Audio available at:

Audio with caption: "In January 2006, after 25 years of struggling with HIV, Health Canada approved a trial of a new medicine which could potentially save Tiko's life. After just one week of taking the new medicine, his symptoms improved dramatically. After 3 months of taking the new treatment, the virus could no longer be detected in his system - Tiko was considered HIV free.". Audio available at:

Audio with caption: "Tiko continues to take this new medicine. He is considered HIV free and he displays no symptoms of the illness whatsoever. He is more active and healthier now than at any stage of his life. A competitive rower and a fitness fanatic, Tiko says that he is at the height of his creative powers, with boundless creative energy and limitless ideas. The innovative medicine that he takes has not only saved his life, it has invigorated his very being.". Audio available at: